'English' traces path of a broken heart

Posted: July 13, 2007

It's not only the title Broken English, Zoe Cassavetes' wistful story of a single who longs to be coupled, that alludes to Lost in Translation by her best bud Sofia Coppola. So, too, does the bittersweet tale of a lost soul who finds herself abroad.

Cassavetes' debut feature stars Parker Posey as Nora Wilder, unlucky-in-love Manhattan single, guest-services director at a hip boutique hotel. A more intense version of Samantha on Sex and the City, Nora in one instance takes her job title literally.

In her quest for Mr. Right, Nora corrects her many misconceptions about love. Could it be that her best friend, Audrey (Drea de Matteo, dourly funny), is not as happy married as she was single? Could it be that her widowed mother (Gena Rowlands, Cassavetes' real-life mom) is happier with her second husband than with Nora's beloved late father?

Seizing the opportunity to play a fully dimensional character, Posey is sensational. Typically, she is cast for her prickliness, and that's in evidence here. But Cassavetes, like director Rebecca Miller in Personal Velocity, appreciates the cactus needles of Posey's personality as well as its vibrant flower.

"I haven't slept without a drink or a sleeping pill for as long as I can remember," announces Nora, who self-medicates for anxiety. (The amount of alcohol quaffed in this film could give the moviegoer contact cirrhosis.) "When it comes to men, I must be doing something horribly wrong, but I don't know what it is," she moans.

Mom and Audrey prescribe "duty-dating" - going out with guys she knows she doesn't like, just for practice.

Typical of Cassavetes' wry humor, one such date has a promising start and disastrous denouement. Another, with a rakish Parisian, Julien (Melvil Poupaud), begins disastrously and ends on a promising note.

It's just Nora's luck to meet Mr. Promising on the eve of his return to France.

Befitting her heroine's personal predicament, Cassavetes' film drifts amiably through Manhattan and Paris, strolling through neighborhoods not usually seen in the movies. What emerges is a travelogue of self-discovery.

As a director, Cassavetes is a keen observer of character and social interaction but not yet much of a visual stylist (which might also describe the improvisational dramas made by her actor/director father, John).

Through Cassavetes' eyes, the dating game is more of a philosophical inquiry than a goal-oriented pursuit.

Broken English *** (out of four stars)

Produced by Jason Kliot, Joana Vicente and Andrew Fierberg, written and directed by Zoe Cassavetes, photography by John Pirozzi, music by Scratch Massive, distributed by Magnolia Pictures and HDNet Films.

Running time: 1 hour, 30 mins.

Nora Wilder. . . Parker Posey

Audrey Andrews. . . Drea de Matteo

Nick Gable. . . Justin Theroux

Vivien Wilder. . . Gena Rowlands

Julien. . . Melvil Poupaud

Parent's guide: R (profanity, drugs, some sexual content)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse

Contact movie critic Carrie Rickey at 215-854-5402 or crickey@philly

news.com. Read her blog, "Flickgrrl," at http://go.philly.com/flickgrrl/

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